The 23 nominees for Moore County Schools annual Teacher of the Year honor all have one thing in common: The job title doesn’t begin to cover the extent of their contributions to their schools.
Club sponsors, athletic coaches, school improvement team members, behavior program coordinators and supporters of beginning teachers were among the group assembled at Pinehurst Country Club for the district’s appreciation banquet Thursday night. The time dedicated to those roles, some of them unpaid, far exceeds the value of the $200 award to each school’s nominee.
“I am in awe just standing here knowing how each of you is shaping the future of so many minds,” said Helena Wallin-Miller, chair of the Moore County Board of Education.
“I see you encourage the slower learner, I see you push the faster learner forward, I see you counsel the students who come to school maybe not so happy that day, and I see you try to refocus some of those students who might be too happy that day. I see you sacrifice your time, and sometimes your wallet, to make sure that each of the students gets just what they need, and I also know that as much as you love this job, some days are downright hard and frustrating. Yet you come back the next day.”
However, the district can forward only one teacher on to the Sandhills regional Teacher of the Year competition. Mariah Morris, a second grade teacher at West Pine Elementary, emerged the winner this year from the extensive selection process conducted by a committee of former teachers of the year from neighboring districts.
A native of Durham, Morris is in her ninth year teaching and her second year at West Pine. She organizes the school’s summer reading program and started a “Read to Lead” program that brings local professionals to talk to the entire second grade about their career, education and factors in their success.
“I’m completely shocked, and I feel very humbled,” Morris said. “There are amazing teachers in Moore County, and I learn every day from my colleagues. We’re a community of teacher-learners, and it really inspires me to keep learning and keep advocating for teachers, because we have a very special job and we can truly help future generations. Every day I go to work is a good day.”
Inspired by the desire to help disadvantaged students like many of the friends she grew up with, Morris attended the University of North Carolina as a member of the now-discontinued Teaching Fellows program. She started her career as a high school English teacher to instill the literacy skills crucial to allowing youth to escape poverty.
“I loved it, but I realized that so many of them were already on the wrong track, so I wanted to delve into the younger grades to try to reach them before they needed interventions and help,” she said. “I think students know I see them for more than just their test scores. Every child brings something positive to your room even if they’re not the best at academics.”
Kim Collazo, the technology instructor at Robbins Elementary School, was named runner-up. She will serve as alternate in the event Morris is unable to participate in the regional competition.
As STEM teacher, Collazo works with her colleagues to integrate technology into every classroom in the school. She also runs the school’s STEM lab, where she has forged connections between her students and scientists at N.C. State University and with fourth-graders in Zimbabwe, with whom they communicate through videos to help tackle the problems of the developing world.
“She has used technology to equalize the playing field and to teach children that we are all far more alike than we are different,” said Anita Alpenfels, Moore County Schools human resources director.
The district also named Union Pines Principal Andy McCormick its Principal of the Year. McCormick has been a principal since 2006 and is in his third year at Union Pines.
“A self-described data nerd, he has utilized said data to develop a master matrix and daily schedule that focuses on the best interest of students, including a 30-minute review and acceleration period each day that allows for in-school club activities on a weekly basis,” said Superintendent Bob Grimesey.
McCormick and Morris will each receive a $400 award and an additional $400 to their schools. Pierce Group Benefits sponsored Thursday evening’s celebration.
Moore County Schools’ Teacher of the Year nominees also included Tammie Earhart of Aberdeen Elementary; Elizabeth Turello of Aberdeen Primary; Tammy Trueblood of Cameron Elementary; Selena McNeil of Carthage Elementary; Alicia Gatling of the Community Learning Center at Pinckney; Gloria Dickson of Crain’s Creek Middle; Jan Carriker of Elise Middle; Shandy Dunlap of Highfalls Elementary; Jenny Wood of New Century Middle; Bradley Kidd of North Moore High; Catrina Nordren of Pinecrest High; Meryl Davidson of Pinehurst Elementary; Katie Peavley of Sandhills Farm Life Elementary; Brian Baker of Southern Middle; Sherin Croft-Lashley of Southern Pines Elementary; Samantha Hicks of Southern Pines Primary; Kathryn Hendrix-Lockamy of Union Pines High; Kimberly Coe of Vass-Lakeview Elementary; Melanie Randolph of West End Elementary; Sarah Freeman of West Pine Middle; and Wendy Ritter 0f Westmoore Elementary.
Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.